Category Archives: Thinking about feeling

Talking Down, or Lifting Up

There’s often a large verbal component to bullying and abuse. What is said is often key to keeping a victim silent. That may take the obvious form of threats – if you tell then there will be consequences. It can be more subtle. An ongoing rubbishing of a person’s feelings, needs, preferences, likes, values and so forth can really grind a person down. The more of it there is – the more people are involved, the longer the time frame, the more influential the bullies are, the more damage is taken. It can facilitate other kinds of abuse, if you’re too crushed to know it isn’t fair.

If the people you love (parents, partner, ‘friends’) tell you that you are silly and make a fuss, over react, are melodramatic, then you may start to question whether your responses to them are fair. It’s easier to assault a person who doesn’t trust their own judgement. If they call your favourite things stupid and worthless, you take damage. If they laugh at your clothes, or your cooking, or the music you like, it can all add up. Enough of this undermining knocks a person’s confidence and dents their self esteem. Eventually, confidence and self esteem can be destroyed by mockery and ridicule. Bullies will also try to isolate their victims so no alternative views are available. They may do this while saying they are the only one who really loves the victim, the only one who could understand them or put up with them.

This kind of damage is hard to recover from alone. It’s pretty much impossible to get over it without first getting away from it. A person needs the chance to hear something other than criticism and putdowns before they can rebuild a sense of self-worth. In the meantime, if I’m anything to go by then overthinking and paranoia can be issues. It is hard to hear a compliment when you’re waiting for the sting in its tail. It’s hard to trust someone who is building you up not to be setting you up for a fall. It takes years of safety to build a new normal. It takes multiple people telling all sorts of much more positive stories to undo the work of long term bullying.

There are people who default to uplifting. Who, given half a chance will compliment and encourage and gently prod you in the right direction. They are an antidote to the people who only belittle and knock down. People with the courage and care to keep uplifting even when the person they’re dealing with is too bruised to know what to do with it. People generous enough not to be put off when the frightened soft animal body they are dealing with reacts defensively and with fear.

I want to be that second sort of person. I realise that the key to this is not to take it personally when someone else flails. To learn how to make good decisions about what is intended to hurt, and what comes from a place of hurt is essential. I can’t afford to deal with people who intend to hurt me, but I can afford not to take things to heart that come from other people’s wounds. I’ve got this wrong in all kinds of ways, and there is nothing to do but learn and try to do better.

There will always be people who show up making helpful noises, but who have no desire to help. People who expect others to magically fix as soon as they step in and who are disappointed, even angry when it doesn’t go that way. Healing is slow and takes patience. Hearts and minds are slower to heal than bodies. For the people who were generous and patient enough with me to stick with my often brutal healing process, and not give up on me, I have enormous gratitude. It’s also taught me a lot about the good one person can do for another in the simple choice to lift them up rather than knocking them down.

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When good things exhaust me

Good things are supposed to be… good. However, something it has taken me a long time to get my head round, is that if I’m burned out, or close to it, good things are just as problematic in some ways as slightly bad things. This, frankly, is annoying, but in learning how to see it coming I’ve been able to look after myself more effectively.

It’s easy to forget that good things also take energy. Good news, exciting developments, moments of joy, relief and the like all take energy. They take a lot more energy than just shuffling along in a non-descript state. Sometimes, good things even bring an adrenaline burst. If you’re an anxious person, then adrenaline means anxiety even when you know a good thing is happening. I was told by an entirely unhelpful person some years ago that I can’t tell the difference between excitement and anxiety. My head can, but for my body, there is no difference. It’s not a failing, or something to fix by trying harder it’s just what happens.

Good things require processing time. If I’m feeling a lot of emotions, I need time to work that through. It’s more obvious when the feels are all difficult, that self-care is in order. Intense good feelings need just as much processing time as difficult feelings. The high of something good can provide a lift, but if my energy is poor then on the far side of the happy peak, is a slide down into a low place. If I know the slide is coming, I can handle it better.

I’ve spent most of my life doing intense highs and lows. The only times I haven’t were when I was too depressed to do the highs in the first place. I’ve always believed that the lows were the price of the highs and chose to accept that as a trade-off. However, in recent years I’ve become more interested in exactly how my brain and body work, and it suggests something more complex is going on. I can have highs without an inevitable crash afterwards if my energy levels are generally good. I can navigate the aftermath of highs better if I give myself processing time.

Sometimes resting is enough for emotional processing. Sometimes I can sleep it off and let my unconscious, dreaming mind figure out all the things. Sometimes I can walk it off or bounce it off on the trampoline to get excess energy under control. However, when it’s a more complicated feeling, I need to dance, or sing, or play a musical instrument for a while. I think these help me most because they let me manifest how I’m feeling without having to get specific words on it. I can express emotions and embody them and settle them into me. Some emotions are big enough to have an impact on who I think I am and how I view my life as a whole. They take some processing. It’s better if I make time and space for them.


Contemplating hate

Hate isn’t an emotion we talk about much. Other people, of course, are haters, and using hate speech, but we don’t so often discuss the role hate may play in our own lives. It’s not a socially acceptable emotion, for the greater part. To express it, most people need to feel part of a group that’s doing the same, and to be sure they are justified. Hate doesn’t always come naturally or easily to us, we may have to work up to it and invest energy in feeling it.

Hate goes with revulsion and rejection. We save our hate for the things and people we feel are most unlike us, so it can be an emotion that does a lot to define us. Which if you end up hating haters, can get complicated!

Hating people is an exhausting business and can put them at the centre of your world. Focus too much on hating someone and you can end up more like them. You give them space in your mind and life, and the attention you pay to that hate is no great joy. However, hate is also a powerful emotion, and this is no doubt part of why we have a long history or cursing as part of magical traditions. We all like to think our hate is valid, justified and reasonable, and most of us won’t look at it too hard to make sure this is true.

I think we should hate oppression, exploitation and cruelty. We should hate needless suffering, environmental degradation, extinction, and the loss of beauty from the world. These things are not people, and I think that’s important too. There is a world of difference between hating what a person does, and hating a person. When you hate a person, it tends to be about things that are intrinsic to them – race, culture, religion, gender. It’s not about them changing, it is about having power over them, to control, limit and oppress. When you hate what a person does, there’s all the room for them to do something different, and that’s probably what you’re aiming for. If you are canny, you’ll hide the hate in order to try and persuade them to change.

Hate can be a great motivator. It is a recognition of absolute unacceptability. It can be a key part of defining our values and it is not an emotion a person needs to automatically feel ashamed of. We just have to remember that hating doesn’t entitle us to anything, nor does it prove much. How we express it, and why, is what will define us as people.


Taking back power

Loss of power sounds like a dramatic thing, doesn’t it? You’d spot someone stealing your power, surely? This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the last year, struggling to find the energy I need to do the things I both need, and want to do. I started to ask where my energy was going, and over time I realised that apparently small energy losses can add up to a very large power drain. Based on a mix of experience and observation, here are some examples of how power is stolen.

Time is the most precious thing. People who feel entitled to use up your time with their things, who offer nothing in return. Who don’t pay any attention when you tell them you are busy, or need to be somewhere else, or can’t do it right now. Just a few minutes day by day of taking your time to no good purpose can be quite the energy sapper. People who are always late and keep you waiting can steal a lot of time.

Asking for unpaid work. Asking that you stay on for just a little bit, or just do an extra thing – always presented as small and no big deal. Again, when this happens all the time, a great deal of time and energy is sucked up by it. Unpaid work that you didn’t volunteer for is basically theft. I’ve also seen this where people with more power slack off to make people with less power bear more of the load, thus taking even more power from them.

Demanding you do emotional labour can be a massive energy sapper. In a true relationship, people look after each other. You hear each other’s problems when they come along, you support each other, help each other figure stuff out. When one person demands support of another but gives nothing in return, they are stealing energy. When you say ‘I’m in a bad place right now and I can’t really help you,’ and they say ‘sorry to hear that, but here’s my problem in great detail, what do you think about my problem? Let’s talk about me and my problem’ there’s power theft going on. People who pester if you say no, and use up more time and energy if you try to resist than they would have if you’d gone along with them, need avoiding as far as possible.

People who make you feel responsible for their problems can be exhausting to deal with. People who keep having the same problems, doing all the same things, totally ignoring all advice but still expecting emotional support, are exhausting to deal with. I’ve had this one in combination and it took me years to find the resolve to step back and not get snared in it.

When a person is in crisis, things can become unbalanced for a while. There’s no problem in that, because we all have times when we’re in trouble and we should all have time to at least listen to each other when things are tough. However, people who are attention hungry, who need to be at the centre of all things at all times, manufacture drama, inflate problems, and ignore clear signs that they’re asking too much. If you’re wired up to take care of people, inclined towards healing or nurturing, this can suck up your life.

It’s worth doing a sort of energy stock take every now and then, I’ve realised. Pausing to look at what happens, and where your energy goes, who uses it and what they do with it. I find if I’m putting energy into something or giving it to someone, and good things happen, I don’t experience it as a drain at all. What wears me down is when my energy is taken, but nothing changes. When I’m given make-work to do, or badly directed so that my work is useless. When my advice is constantly ignored yet I keep getting asked for advice on the same problems over and over again, that grinds me down.

I find it difficult saying no to people. But, I’ve learned the hard way that if I keep saying yes to people who steal my time and energy, I end up drained and useless, with my self esteem through the floor.


Rest, action and illness

When ‘normal’ people are ill or tired, they rest. What do you do if ill and/or exhausted are your normal condition? I go round this one a lot, and while I’m not able to offer definitive answers, I think there’s mileage to be had in framing the questions and possible answers.

Rest helps us recover faster from illness. Not resting when ill not only slows recovery, but also undermines mental health.

However, being physically active helps move the blood and lymph fluids about, which can also help. Too much inaction leaves us with weakened muscles, reduced stamina, less healthy hearts. Not moving much can also make mental health issues worse. Physical activity is encouraged as an answer to depression and anxiety. Being as fit as you can be helps you stay resilient.

Except if you always hurt and you never have much energy, being active is hard. It isn’t easy to tell if a sudden loss of energy is because you have energy issues, or because you are coming down with some simple ailment like the flu. If you are used to pushing to get things done it can be hard to work out when not pushing is the better answer.

Depression causes loss of energy. Depression is a common consequence of living with long term pain and illness. It isn’t easy to separate the heavy lethargy of depression from the physical experiences you may be having.

It is easy to get into unhelpful cycles. If you push all the time to keep going, you learn to ignore what your body tells you. You become alienated from your body and fight against it continually. You don’t notice when things go wrong that need some response other than pushing harder. This puts you at risk. Perhaps in the end you run out of the will to keep pushing yourself onwards all the time. That can be very hard to recover from.

If you rest too much, you lose, or do not develop physical strength, stamina and co-ordination. Depression may increase. Increasing your feelings of lethargy. You feel powerless, you may feel increasingly intimidated by the idea of trying to do anything. You may just keep spiralling down in this way until you aren’t really living your life at all.

There’s no simple solution to this that I can see. Listening to your body is good and so is trusting your body, but depression and exhaustion don’t make you into a good listener. Often the opposite. Other people will have advice for you, maybe some of them will think they know what you need better than you know. Sometimes they may be right, but not always. Other people will have magic cures and absolute certainties for things that will change everything – but your body is unique and what worked for one person is not guaranteed to work for you.

There are no simple answers. Keep questioning. Keep trying things. Don’t give up on yourself. You may never be able to get so that your body works in the way a normal body is assumed to work, but that’s not the only good outcome available. You can find combinations that serve you best, and that improve your quality of life and you can do it on your own terms.


Recovering from trauma

People who are counselled and supported in the aftermath of trauma don’t tend to go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is something that tends to happen to people who take the trauma inside them. It becomes normal. It becomes how you think the world works and what you expect. This is a higher risk when the trauma isn’t a one off event, but a long process – people coming out of war zones, domestic abuse situations, child abuse, can all have spent a long time suffering and being blamed for what’s happening.

The general wisdom out there seems to be that if you don’t get it dealt with early, it might never be possible to deal with it. Everything I’ve seen has said that recovery requires professional help. So, what do you do if you can’t afford professional help, or you aren’t believed, or you can’t deal with professionals?

Creating a new normal can change a lot of things. It takes time. If PTSD is rooted in a long experience of trauma, it won’t change quickly. However, if you are in a safe environment, and you are able to recognise it as safe, this slowly retrains your brain. It doesn’t mean you won’t get triggered, but it means when you do, you know that’s what’s happening. Support in recognising when you aren’t in danger can really help. Constant affirmation that you are safe now, you aren’t there any more, it won’t be like that again, can, over time, get your brain out of hypervigilant terrified panic stations. It can be done.

I’ve found that being able to tell when I’m being triggered makes a lot of difference. The faster I can identify it, the less damage the triggering does me. It’s when you’re locked into the past, reliving it, re-enacting it, that being triggered is such a desperate nightmare. Recognising that what’s happening is that you’ve been triggered is really powerful because it gives you a little space in which to reassess things. Am I really in danger? Am I going through that same experience again? If it looks like you are, then doing whatever it takes to get to safety is the priority. Mostly I find that I am re-experiencing the past, and it is not the case that the past is repeating itself in the present.

Once I’ve been triggered, there will be flashbacks. Even if I know I’ve been triggered, they still come up. This can go on for days if it’s really bad. Again, I’ve found that knowing this is happening makes a difference. A flashback comes, and it happens to me, a memory surfaces. There will be a period of time when I can’t do much about that, but, as soon as I can properly identify it as a flashback, I can try to put it down. I won’t always manage, but the more I do to try not to become enmeshed in the flashback, the better it is for me. Over time, I’ve got quicker at realising when it’s happening and quicker at identifying surfacing things as flashbacks, and better at not getting involved with them.

I’ve learned that the only thing to do in face of this is be kind to myself. Rest, and get some good quality, soul feeding distraction in the mix. I try to find balances between distracting myself, and thinking carefully about what’s going on. If I can face up to the surfacing trauma and name it, that does help. If I can reframe it as something I didn’t deserve and wasn’t ok, that helps. If I can grieve for what happened to me, that helps. If I can recognise what I internalised at the time, that helps. I have to face why I didn’t protect myself, and those things run very deep.

Healing can be a brutal process. When the cold dead fingers of PTSD are wrapped around your throat, trying to pry them off is not happy or easy work. It isn’t quick, or simple. But it can be done.  And it can be done with no professional help, no guidance, and a great deal of unpicking it yourself. If you can get help, get help. If you can’t, you don’t have to give up on yourself.


Depression and exhaustion

Lack of energy is often treated as a symptom of depression, when a person is depressed, but I am entirely convinced that exhaustion is a major cause of depression. Often it seems like depression is understood as an internal event, but my experience is that it is often caused by external things. We make the problem, and the solution personal because looking at the collective implications would be hugely political.

Over worked, over stressed by increasingly difficult commutes, it’s easy to get into situations of not eating well enough to maintain energy and not being physically active enough to look after your body. That in turn all feeds into poor sleeping and further energy loss. Poverty and lack of work are also exhausting and the government is doing its best to make it so. Depression can be a kind of forced stop, when body and mind won’t take it anymore and just can’t do any more things. Rest at this point is essential.

However, if all you do is recover and head back into the fray, the next round is inevitable. If the way we live makes us ill, brief respites won’t solve anything.

Proper rest and relaxation has to be part of normal life. It’s not some kind of luxury add on bonus thing, it’s not a reward, or a distant goal. It has to be an every day thing to keep mind and body well. It also has to be good quality. Rest is like food – some things are more nourishing than others, and what you really need is the good stuff that will feed you, body and soul.

For me good books and films, beautiful anime, and lots of sleep works well as down time. When I’m a bit more lively, live music and other live entertainment, and time with friends is good. When I’m really low, I find socialising exhausting, even with the people I find it easiest to be around. But then, when I’m really low I find most things exhausting and I can get to places where I don’t have the concentration to read or to watch a film. While I know the theory of how to look after myself, I don’t always do a great job of it.

One of the issues for wellness, is how much slack you have in your systems. I tend to run close to the limits of what I can get away with. When things go to plan, this is fine. However, all it takes is one surprise energy drain and I can be in a lot of trouble. A cold, an unexpected job, or someone needing my emotional support in a big way can all tip me over. I’m not good at saying no to people, especially when I know those people are in trouble, and I’ve found it hard to really look at the costs of some things. But, I can do more good stuff and be of more benefit to others when I’m not dragging myself along the ground, and that logic has helped me make better choices. Like a lot of people, I find it hard making self care a priority when faced with someone else’s need, but I can think about overall effectiveness.

Which brings me round to another underpinner for depression – low self esteem. If you are the least important thing, if everyone else’s wellness and happiness are more important than your own, if every last job you might do is more important than whether you can do it… depression is inevitable. Not getting exhausted all the time in the first place requires you to be worth more than the things that are wearing you out. That’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s not even possible. If, when you are under so much pressure to do all the things and you fall apart, you are then blamed for falling apart, that really doesn’t help at all. It can in fact keep the cycles of exhaustion and depression firmly in place. Blame confirms that if only we’d tried harder it would have worked. Blame confirms that we should be able to do all the things with no respite. This piles stress upon stress and offers no way out. Sometimes, a little recognition that what you’re up against is shitty and unfair can be a life saver.


Mental health support kit

Yesterday on social media, fellow Druid Cat Treadwell pointed out that for physical injuries and disabilities, we use things to help us – walking sticks, being her example. There’s no immediately obvious kit to use as a mental health support. So, I started thinking about things I habitually carry, and things I’ve carried in the past. This is not an exhaustive list. Plus, this probably needs to be personal.

Rescue Remedy (contains alcohol, so not for everyone).

Tissues.

Bottle of water. (I’ve yet to find a situation where water hasn’t helped me).

Something with sugar in it (if you do sugar and if sugar soothes you).

Something hard I can grip to focus my mind (tends to be either keys or crystals for me.)

Something affirming (I used to carry a little plastic figure of Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard in my pocket to protect me from evil. He was totally effective.)

Something tactile and reassuring to touch (I’ve often got a friendly stone in my pocket).

I also find there’s something inherently reassuring about going out with extra gear – whether that’s waterproofs, a sunhat, or other bits and pieces of useful things. I feel more in control when I’ve got some sort of a kit bag to help me deal with changes and thus to face the unexpected. Starting out feeling a bit more in control really helps with the anxiety, I have found.

 


Self Awareness and Unawareness

I’ve yet to encounter anyone who self-identifies as being self-unaware. It’s one of those things that you have to have if you’re on a spiritual path, and that we tend to talk about in terms of work done rather than in terms of struggle or full on failure. So, here we go…

I like to know what I’m doing and why, but honestly, sometimes, I have no idea. Sometimes the emotions and impulses turn up and it isn’t until afterwards that I can figure out what’s going on. Often this is important, it happens because I’m changing, growing, healing, breaking, stretching or somesuch. To do those things I have to go through a patch where I may have little idea what’s going on with me.

Not all of my thinking is conscious – there’s all kinds of stuff the brain gets up to where the conscious bit of the mind can’t see it, and sometimes surprising things bubble up from the depths. Sometimes this shows up in dreams, or comes through in my writing. Sometimes I can only bring things into my consciousness by accidentally starting to write about them. I like this about me. I like that I can still surprise myself and that there are always new things to explore.

I’m getting new experiences and information on a daily basis. My environment shapes and shifts me. My body changes over time. My needs, wants, hopes and desires change. When they are in flux, I may need to question them regularly to keep up at all.

I have ideas about who I have been and aspirations about where I might be going, but both of these can be wrong. We re-write our stories all the time, and I’m fine with that – it is necessary. The story I tell myself is not the story other people tell about me. There are plenty of other people’s stories in which I am a far better person than I appear to be when I look at me. There are also plenty of other people’s stories in which I am all the wrong things imaginable, and there are lots of those and they exist for reasons and some of those reasons are definitely of my making. Often they pertain to situations where I refused to do or be what was wanted of me.

There is a balance to strike between navel-gazing introspection, and looking outwards. We can’t entirely know ourselves by looking in, we have to get out there and do stuff, and see what we do and how we feel about it and what happens next. We have to engage with other people and see what they make of us and whether we agree with them. Too much introspection can create halls of mirrors in which we see reflections of who we imagine we are, ever more distorted by all the things about us we haven’t actually faced or dealt with…  Too little introspection and we can be at the mercy of anything – interior or exterior. We’re easily led and persuaded if we don’t know who we are or what we want.

I don’t always choose the right bits of my personality to squash down as unacceptable, or the right bits to bring forward into the light. I have a history of making poor judgements about what of me should be allowed, and what is too offensive to other people, what I’m entitled to and what I’m not. At least, right now I think those were bad choices, but a decade ago I thought they were wise and responsible choices. The opinion of future-me remains a mystery.

For all that I try to understand how my history impacts on my outlook, how my feelings affect my actions, how my actions inform my life… I also give myself permission not to know. To be perplexed and lost and confused sometimes – because those are important experiences too. I give myself permission to have no idea what’s going on or what I ought to be doing so as to make space for new things to come in. I give myself permission to change and to surprise myself. And as far as I can manage it, I am not going to let any story I have about how self aware I am become a reason to ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with me, or to reject input that doesn’t affirm to me how brilliantly self aware I am being. It’s a theory, at any rate.


Being attention hungry

I tend to be critical in my posts on drama, and attention seeking behaviour. I find it exhausting to deal with and I don’t feel much empathy for people who need to generate drama in order to be in the middle of things all the time, so I have challenged myself to try and look at this from some different angles.

Being attention hungry is a real thing. It can have deep roots going back into childhood. The need for affirmation can be all about low self esteem and lack of confidence. My answer to this comes from parenting – which is to reinforce the behaviour you want to see. Validate someone when they aren’t doing drama and you can change everything. Give people space and opportunity to prove themselves in other ways and they may not need to do drama at all. It definitely works with small children.

There’s an emotional intensity to drama. If life seems dull, thin and narrow, then drama can be an antidote to banality. People can end up creating it because they crave interest and excitement. That same intensity and excitement can draw people in who claim not to even like drama – I’ve certainly been that person. The answer is to find real stimulation and value, because drama tends to be empty, hollow and unsatisfying.

Just because it looks like drama to me, from the outside, doesn’t mean I’m right. I may have a poor grasp of what’s going on. I may not understand the significance of events, someone else’s triggers, how much they had invested, how much is at stake and so forth. I should not be too quick to discount other people’s problems. It may be more honest to say that I’m sorry but I just don’t have the spare energy right now, rather than making my inability to help the responsibility of the other person.

It may be that the person I’m dealing with feels very small and very powerless, and whipping up drama they are in the centre of is how they cope with this. If I support the drama, I may reinforce the idea that only drama makes them important or powerful. I should look at how I am treating them outside of drama situations and see if I can improve things there.

It may be that the person doing drama has learned growing up that this is the best way to get attention, or get things done. They may have learned habits of thought and behaviour from family members, or soap operas. If I get cross or upset with them over the drama, I can only feed into the drama and keep it attractive. I may be able to protect myself by very quietly withdrawing my energy from the situation. If I’m dealing with learned behaviour, then I need to model the behaviour I want to see rather than enacting the drama and then wondering why it won’t go away.

The problem could be one of perspective. People who have spent their lives in relative ease, privilege and comfort can get upset about things the rest of us find it hard to make sense of. If you expect life to be hard sometimes, then you just knuckle down and deal with the tough bits. If you expect it to all go effortlessly your way, then you may have no ability to cope when it doesn’t. Fragile egos, first world problems, and no perspective can have people whipping up drama around minor incidents because they don’t know how small their shit is. People who say they are triggered when they are uncomfortable, and so forth. Sucking up time and energy because of privilege isn’t cool, but education can be a slow process, and often an unwelcome one.